Australia

A visit by Dominic L. Serventy (1904-1988) from Australia to New York in early 1938 led to a fruitful collaboration. So far Mayr had used the material of the Mathews Collection of Australian birds at the AMNH for the preparation of many papers on the birds collected during the Whitney Expedition. But the taxonomy of Australian birds owing to the publications of Gregory Mathews (1927, 1930) was chaotic. Serventy knew these birds in the field and Mayr, as curator of the Rothschild Collection, had access to all of Mathews' types. The first result of this new collaboration was their joint review (1938i) of the thornbills (Acanthiza), relatives of Sericornis and Gerygone. Each author contributed about equally to this revision. Eleven Acanthiza species are known from Australia and Tasmania and one (A. murina) from the mountains of New Guinea. In another article on "The number of Australian bird species" based on the concept of superspecies Mayr and Serventy (1944h) show that Australia, although ten times larger in area than New Guinea, harbors only a similar number of species. These joint papers aroused Mayr's interest in Australian birds.

After G. M. Mathews's reckless naming of subspecies in The Birds of Australia (1910-1927) "substantial progress in the modern treatment of genera, species and subspecies hasbeen made by Dr. ErnstMayr" (Serventy 1950:267). His publications in The Emu (totaling 112 pages; Marchant 1972:66) made him well known among Australian ornithologists and field naturalists some of whom he met when he visited Australia in the northern winter 1959-1960. He used this opportunity to observe in the field several "aberrant" Australian songbirds whose systematic position was unsettled and commented on their behavior (Mayr 1963c).

The recent "Directory of Australian Birds. Passerines" by R. Schodde and I. Mason (1999) is dedicated to the four founders of modern Australian variation studies: Ernst Mayr who initiated this new era, Allen Keast, Julian Ford, and Shane Parker.

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